I wasn’t a big fan of Vietnamese food before visiting Vietnam.
The only Vietnamese dish I had eaten and liked at that point was pho, which I found to be simple but tasty. Beyond that, I just wasn’t keen. I didn’t like the smell of fish sauce, the accompaniment to what to me seemed like a lot of Vietnamese dishes. I also wasn’t all that enthusiastic about spring rolls, finding them to be rather bland and soggy things with too much flour in a mouthful. In my ignorant mind, I associated Vietnamese food with just fish sauce and spring rolls and therefore wasn’t expecting much food-wise as I headed to Vietnam.
Ah how wrong I was, because Vietnamese cuisine is a delight!
Though simple, traditional Vietnamese food made with fresh ingredients, abound with herbs, is difficult to beat. The lack of complexity in the preparation of the food means that really decent, good tasting food can be found by the side of the street (for way less than a pound), as you sit on tiny stools, crammed in with the locals, huddling over a small plastic table.
After a while I even come to appreciate the omnipresent pungent fish sauce, as I realised that Vietnamese food is all about the balance. Each mouthful can be any combination of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, spicy, herb-y goodness and I’m always filled with excited nervousness as I anticipate my first bite into a new dish that I am about to try for the first time.
I also discovered that spring rolls, when prepared properly, are not soggy in the slightest. Fact.
The dishes can be quite regional, with flavours varying noticeably from the north to south of Vietnam. The food in the south for instance, tends to be sweeter in taste than the north. There are dishes that originate from a particular town or region and hence taste more authentic at the source (e.g. the spiciness of the food in Hue). Then there are others that can really only be found in a particular town (always a good excuse for visiting a place in my opinion!) – Hoi An‘s cao lau and white rose dumplings are some examples.
I’ll leave you now with photos of some of the dishes, desserts and drinks I was particularly fond of and enjoyed during my trip around Vietnam.
Bahn ghoi – deep fried pastries stuffed with vermicelli, mushrooms and pork
Nem ran – crunchy spring rolls with a soft vegetable and meat filling. Also known as cha gio in the south.
Bun cha – grilled small patties of seasoned pork and slices of marinated pork belly on top of rice noodles, in a fish sauce-heavy broth (generally topped with a good helping of herbs)
Pho cuon – fresh spring rolls made from sheets of uncut pho noodles wrapped around fried beef, herbs and lettuce or cucumber
Banh bot loc – translucent dumplings of sticky tapioca flour filled with sauteed whole shrimps and sliced fatty pork
Bánh cuốn – thin sheet of steamed fermented rice batter filled with seasoned ground pork, minced mushroom and shallots, served with dipping sauce
Bún Ốc – snail noodle soup in a tasty, sourish broth
White rose dumplings from Hoi An – made from translucent white dough, filled with spiced minced shrimp or pork, then shaped to look like little white roses
Cao lau – pork noodle dish from Hoi An, a fusion of thick Japanese udon-like noodles, crispy won ton and pork (Chinese influence) and Vietnamese broth
Banh xeo – a crispy crepe filled with pork, shrimp, and bean sprouts, plus a garnish of fresh herbs
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Pho – the national dish. Savoury broth, fresh rice noodles, a handfull of herbs, topped with chicken or beef. More herbs, chillis, lime and beansprouts are available on the side.
Pho sides – each table in a pho stall will have this for everyone’s use
Goi cuon – translucent parcels of salad greens, a slice of meat (or seafood) and coriander, all to be dunked in a side of chilli sauce
Barbecue marinated chicken with lime and chilli salt. I got fed up with eating noodles for yet another meal and plumped for pure protein. Heavenly.
Banh mi – the Vietnamese version of baguettes. I bought this one in Ho Chi Minh City where they stuff it with cheese, cold cuts, fresh cilantro and chili sauce, in addition to the standard pate (I don’t want to know what it’s made of).
Desserts and pastries
Chuối chiên – deep fried banana fritters (poor photo, I know, but it was the only way to take a photo without my hands being covered in oil). Very greasy!
Che – sweet dessert with layers of bean jelly, coconut milk, fruit, and ice
Fruit and drinks
Star apple (aka milk fruit) and sapodilla. I would also have uploaded 1000 pictures of mangoes which comprised a large proportion of my daily food intake, but I’m guessing you already know what they look like!
Vietnamese coffee at Cong Caphe, Hanoi. There’s a good layer of condensed milk sitting at the bottom to counter-balance the strong, bitter coffee.
Iced vietnamese coffee with condensed milk
Mango smoothie – self explanatory
What do you think of Vietnamese food? Like or dislike?